Divine Foreknowledge: 4 Views

26 September 2007

One of the most persistent questions facing Christians is “can divine foreknowledge be reconciled with human free will?” In the book Divine Foreknowledge: 4 Views, four excellent Christian thinkers address this question, giving the reader exposure to a range of views across the spectrum.

Gregory Boyd defends the controversial open theism view. According to this position, humans really do have genuine free choices, and even God does not know what choices will be made. Boyd contends that genuine free choices literally cannot be known, since they haven’t been made yet. Since God’s omniscience only entails that He knows all facts which it is possible to know, Boyd argues that this view does not diminish God’s perfect knowledge.

Boyd primarily bases his case on Biblical texts. He says that texts which indicate God repenting of previous actions, expressing frustration, and changing His mind should be taken at face value, rather than dismissed as anthropomorphisms.

Open theism is a relatively new and extremely controversial view within Christian theism. This is currently an active and exciting area within the philosophy of religion. It will be interesting to see what comes of this debate.

David Hunt defends the more intuitive simple-foreknowledge view, according to which God simply knows everything about the future. Hunt also affirms human free will. He rejects several approaches to reconciling the two concepts, including the so-called Ockhamist solution favored by Craig. Rather, Hunt claims that humans can have libertarian free will even if they do not have alternative possibilities.

William Lane Craig defends the middle knowledge view. This is a somewhat more intricate doctrine of foreknowledge that Craig has defended in more detail elsewhere (see his book The Only Wise God) In this view, God’s knowledge can be categorized into 3 conceptual categories. The first is natural knowledge, which is God’s knowledge of all possible worlds. The third is free knowledge, which is God’s knowledge of all things in the actual world. The second category is appropriately called ‘middle knowledge,’ and it consists of God’s knowledge of what every free creature would do in any possible set of circumstances. This would include, for example, knowledge of what I would do if my computer crashed right now. This is known as a counterfactual of creaturely freedom. According to Craig, God can use His middle knowledge to create a world in which His ends are met through human free choices.

Craig says that there is no incompatibility between libertarian free will and God’s perfect foreknowledge of what agents will do. He argues that it is altogether mysterious how mere knowledge of a future act could cause the act. In actual fact, our free choices determine God’s foreknowledge, not the other way around.

Finally, Paul Helm defends the Augustinian-Calvinist position, which denies that humans have libertarian free will. Instead, Helm defends a compatibilist view of freedom, which he argues is sufficient for moral accountability. Helm contends that attempts like Craig’s and Hunt’s to reconcile human freedom with divine foreknowledge fail, and that open theism views like Boyd’s entail a rejection of sovereignty and an abuse of the Biblical texts.

I thought all the contributors to this volume were great representatives of their respective positions, and the ‘four views’ format allows the reader to see the broad range of Christian positions on this fascinating issue. For those who are interested and/or troubled by the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom, this book is highly recommended.


  1. I always have thought that this topic of discussion amongst Christians is rather interesting. It’s unfortunate that people become so heated about it, but I suppose that’s to be expected considering the ramifications that it has on their lives.

    I enjoyed that little brief synopsis of both the book as well as the different views. I actually had not heard of open theism, but I can see how that would be very controversial (which I immediately thought myself when I read the description).

    I don’t think that you mentioned in this review what your own feelings were. What are they? Or did you purposefully leave that part of the entry out?

    Derek Wong    Sep 27, 02:40 PM    #
  2. Good review. I have been studying this a bit lately, and was glad to come across it on your site.

    Brian    Sep 29, 01:47 PM    #
  3. Derek,

    As far as my own views on this subject, I have still not really come to a solidified position on the issue. However, my leanings are towards an account like Craig’s or Hunt’s. I am fairly uncomfortable with the open-theist account, but I am even more opposed to an account like Helm’s. That is probably because of my Arminian leanings.

    If I had to pick a view, I am currently most sympathetic to the middle-knowledge perspective. It is a fun issue and it is an area that I’m doing a lot of research on currently.


    Kyle    Oct 3, 12:07 PM    #
  4. Kyle-

    Well your view happens to currently be fairly similar to mine. I studied it a bit a few years ago, and although it seems as if there are many Calvinists around (due in no small part probably because John MacArthur is in the area) I have some fairly Arminian views.

    It is definitely an interesting issue, but the thing that I came away with was that there might never be a definitive answer in human minds. But that is not what we are going to need to apply to our lives. I learned about views that I need to hold, and views that I might hold but might not be absolutely necessary as a Christian.

    People always seem to get heated about this issue and (in my opinion) wrongly so.

    Derek Wong    Oct 3, 12:47 PM    #
  5. Stating that God doesn’t know the future is stating that God doesn’t know truth.

    If God exists, which he does, then he is extemporal, and extrauniversal. He is outside of space and time in a dimension that is an order above ours, or more. The only way that he can see the full truth in scientific terms, is to be removed from the “experimental area” instead of existing within and as a part of creation, he is outside it. How else did he create it unless was something a dimension lesser than he?

    Now, what I disagree with and find utterly no use for is the idea that if God know all future events, it is because he already knows what he’s going to do, how all those future events are going to play out and relegating him the position of cosmic chess player. I also find little to no basis in scripture for this beyond semantic arguments.

    This shows a severe lack of imagination at the very least, and an ignorance of helpful science. Quantum mechanics proves that nothing within a system can know fully about the system. Every action that you take to even know the system changes that system. Predestination limits omniscience because the future is manipulated, not known just by rote and pre-eminence of God’s knowledge. Foreknowledge by inception rather than intuition is not omniscience, but and extension of omnipotence. It also would point to God as being a part of the physical nature of the world, and subject to time.

    If Christ’s sacrifice were subject to time, then it is worthless. The reason that the sacrifice was to be of God, is because that sacrifice served the need for all sinners, past, present, and future. That shoots open theism right out the door. Open theism denies sacrific for future sins, because God would not have known them to forgive them.

    Free will does not deny sovereignty, sovereignty that actually denied us free will does, however, deny moral accountability for our actions, and an actual reason for God to punish the wicked. How can a just God cause someone to do something, and then condemn him for it? It’s lunacy. It’s called guilt by implication, and it states that evil actually comes from God, or at the very least by inaction. I think the bible states something about sins of omission, by not doing what you knew to be right, that becomes a sin. By Gods own perfect law he becomes imperfect by controlling those that do sin to be sinners. If God does not give us free will to choose, then there is also no real love.

    Anyways, maybe I should just write my own book instead of a comment here.

    Steve Brisendine    Nov 1, 12:42 PM    #
  6. I thought I’d weight in with a theory of my own on how free will and God’s foreknowledge can be compatible. Forgive me if my theory isn’t fully fleshed out, and feel free to point out weak spots.

    Anywho, I’ll start by pointing out an assumption that all the previous theories have been making. Any comflict between free will and foreknowledge presupposes that God goes through time in a linear fashion, minute by minute, second by second, just like us. But He doesn’t. This can be backed up with two basic points: that God created time and the universe and that God remains the same “yesterday today and forever.” New experiences change people by definition, if only by adding one new memory. Therefore, if God is unchanging, He can’t be going through time like we do, as the new experiences would change Him in some way. He created time, He doesn’t have to go through it (with one exception in the Incarnation, and I will freely admit, I’m not quite sure how the Incarnation fits into this).

    My theory is that if God created time and holds the universe in His hands, then He very well could be present in the universe at every point in time simultaneously. He can see the whole of history because He is watching it right now, He knows our every decision because He is watching us make that decision. I can’t quite wrap my head around it, but it seems to make sense. I think a quote of C.S. Lewis’ got me started down this train of thought. It’s not totally my own idea. But anywho, as unorthodox as this theory is, I think it works.

    Heather Gerow    Apr 22, 04:58 PM    #
  7. Just a comment on the post by Steve B regarding open theism. He disregarded it because God would not know each future sin and therefore not be able to forgive the future sins. I think you need a new understanding of this. God does have to forgive your ‘sins’ individually, he is quite capable of forgiving your ‘sin’ in an all encompassing way. We don’t have to confess every individual sin inorder to receive forgiveness for them, so it stands to reason he doesn’t need to list them out for himself either. Just my own simple logic, I guess, for what it’s worth.

    Kathyk    May 27, 05:29 PM    #
  8. Also, regarding Steve B open theism I do agree with Kathyk that God would know all possible sin and die for all possible sin. To add though the idea that God is outside of time is merely based on philosophy of Augustine and I hold to the belief that time is but an attribute of God. If this illogical please inform me how but from what I understand of time from the great thinkers is that we just know it exist in some format other then that it is very hypothetical

    Tyler M    Mar 17, 06:00 PM    #
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